Members of Outdoor Industry Association gathered in Washington, D.C. last week to address several issues critical to the growth of the outdoor industry at the annual Capital Summit. By all accounts, this year was the most successful and most well-run event since OIA began the Capital Summit 10 years ago. Roughly 45 high quality CXO’s and business owners attended the event, meeting with members of Congress and their senior staff.

OIA’s government affairs team – Myrna Johnson and Alex Boian – deserve much of the credit for the success of the event. Additionally, OIA as a whole deserves credit, not only for organizing an effective lobbying campaign, but also for reaching out to several different outside organizations to form one collective voice for the industry. Representatives from SnowSports Industries America, American Hiking Society, Bikes Belong, The National Parks and Conservation Association, and The President’s Council on Physical Fitness were all in attendance at the event.

The 50 Capital Summit attendees were separated into several different teams, allowing the individual members to focus on the particular region where their business is based, and make more effective arguments to the Senator, Representative, or senior staffer.

The Capital Summit had three main goals: to secure $90 million funding for the Stateside Land and Water Conservation fund, to fund the Recreation Trails Enhancements Program in the Highway Bill, and Pass the Association Health Plan legislation. In order to accomplish the first goal – deemed by many attendees as the most important – OIA drafted a “dear colleague” letter and each team was looking for a member of Congress to spearhead the movement and circulate the letter to other member of Congress.

Preserving the Stateside LWCF was also deemed important because President Bush zeroed out all funding for the program in his budget recommendation. “Our goal was to create a significant buzz in Washington, DC and to build momentum on saving the stateside Land and Water Conservation Fund, and we accomplished it.  By the end of our week in town, two “Dear Colleague” letters in support of stateside LWCF were circulating – one in the House and one in the Senate — with commitments from Senators and Representatives to sign them rolling in,” Myrna Johnson, VP of Government Affairs for OIA told BOSS.

In particular, the Northeast team had quite a successful series of meetings; every member of the team left the offices of Senator Judd Gregg (R, NH) feeling they had made some positive steps. Senator Gregg is Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. He also holds positions on the Senate Appropriations Committee with seats on the Commerce, Interior, Defense, and Labor-Health-Education subcommittees.

“…We know that ‘Team Northeast’ achieved a significant and crucial pledge of support from Senator Gregg, the chairman of the budget committee. While our work is not yet complete, the Capitol Summit could be a defining effort in the preservation of the stateside Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Hugelmeyer.

This is a very significant step considering the number of budget cuts in store for FY 2006, and many consider Senator Gregg to be one of the more fiscally conservative members of Congress on Capital Hill, but at the same time he has a strong environmental record. He has regularly made speeches against “tax and spend” economic plans, and states on his website that he will “work with other leaders in Congress to aggressively reduce the size of our federal budget deficit while addressing the rate of growth of entitlements.”

Members of the team that lobbied Senator Gregg gave much of the credit to Will Manzer, the new CEO of Eastern Mountain Sports and a New Hampshire resident. Manzer spearheaded the discussion, and seems to be stepping into his role as an industry leader without missing a beat.

“I had been writing letters to Senator Gregg for quite some time,” Manzer told BOSS. “So, I really want to get in there, break down any walls between us, and open up some constructive communication.”

With the amount of economic research in support of preserving recreation areas, OIA’s agenda falls neatly into the platform of a green conservative (See ‘The New Green Fiscal Conservative’ BOSS_0512). Likewise, OIA armed attendees with a plethora of economic facts and studies that made supporting the industry’s argument that much easier. Following the day of lobbying, OIA and REI hosted a reception on Capital Hill in the Rayburn Courtyard. Nearly 300 members of congress and their staffs were invited with a very healthy turn-out.

OIA kicked off day 2 in Washington D.C. by giving Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) the 2005 Friend of the Outdoor Industry Awards. The Award is given each year during the OIA Capitol Summit to members of Congress in recognition of their legislative leadership the previous year on outdoor recreation related issues.

“I am pleased to recognize Senators Landrieu and Alexander for their long standing commitment to promote outdoor recreation and create new parks and open space,” remarked Hugelmeyer. “As co-sponsors of the Americans Outdoors Act last year, the Senators demonstrated their passionate commitment to the importance of recreation opportunities for all.” The Americans Outdoors Act would have guaranteed $1.4 billion in annual funding for outdoor programs, including full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and $125 million for the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery program.

OIA works diligently throughout the year to organize this event and then, even more importantly, follow up on the meetings afterwards so that lawmakers know where the outdoor industry stands. The showing this year was one of the strongest groups of industry executives ever gathered in one room, and it seems the outcome was equally as impressive.